531. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [15 June 1800]

531. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [15 June 1800] ⁠* 

My dear Danvers

I have an especial Postman to Bristol, [1]  & leisure only for one letter, to which you have most claim. On Thursday last we saw the long looked for procession of the Body of God – I give the English name that I may not throw a Portugueze cloak over the naked nonsense of blasphemy. The Pix is empty in all other processions, it in this it contains the wafer – So it was the Real Presence. on the preceding night the streets thro which it is to pass are cleaned & strewn with sand – the most miraculous thing I have ever yet witnessed of the Host. the houses are hung with crimson damask from top to bottom. they houses are high, very handsome & perfectly regular, & the Street rather longer than Redclift Street. The Soldiers lined the way, their new uniforms were put on & their appearance very respectable. every window & balcony was crowded, the Portugueze were all in full dress, & of the finery of Portugueze full dress you can have but very inadequate ideas. not a jewel in Lisbon but was displayed; rainbows & peacocks are Quaker-comparisons. The banners of the city & its various corporate trades led the way – I never saw banners so clumsily carried. they were stuck out with rods instead of being suffered to play freely, & wave with the wind & roll out their beauties in light & shade. sticks were stuck at right angles in the poles to carry them by; nothing could be more awkward or more laborious for the bearers; they were obliged to walk round the first, some backwards like lobsters, others crabsideling along, & all toiling with a waste of exertion. Then came a champion in compleat armour, carrying a flag. I pitied him, the armour was a heavy load, & the attitude painfull, both hands holding the flag, so that his horse was led. I saw St George also, who followed him. a wooden Portugueze St George – his legs stiff striding like the notch of a bootjack, a man walking on each side to hold him on by the feet. He lives in the Castle, & on his way to this procession calls at the Duke of Cadavals, [2]  where they dress his hat with all the jewels of the family. on his return he calls again & leaves them. When the late King [3]  was dying he had St George put to bed to him. he sent for all the Saints in Lisbon & a palace full there was, but the consultation produced no effect. –

Scarcely any part of the procession was more beautiful than a number of fine led horses, their saddles covered with rich emblazonments. the brotherhoods then walked, an immense train, red cloaks & grey cloaks out of number, & all the friars. some few of these indeed were “more fat than friars beseemed,” [4]  but there were some that filled me with respect & pity. Old men, grey bearded, thin as austerity could make old age, so pale – so hermit-like – of such a bread & water appearance, that of their sincerity no doubt could be entertained. They quite made me melancholy to see uprightness of intention & energy so misapplied. tho temperate for June the day was hot, & I pitied the shaven heads glistening under the fierce noon sun. their breviaries – their hands – handkerchiefs & cowls were held up ineffectually, two years ago some of their people are said to have died, struck by the sun, in this procession. At that time an accident prove happened which gave the Irish friars an opportunity to show they had not degenerated in a foreign land. A stranger dropt with a coup de soleil. he was dead to all appearance, the Irish friars got him at their church & carried him off to be buried. the coffin is always kept open during the service, & before it was finished the Man moved. What do you suppose the Wild Hunies did? they could not bury him then they agreed – but they locked him in the church instead of sending for assistance. the next day the man was dead enough & they finished their job.

The concluding part was wonderfully fine. the Knights of the various order, the Patriarchal Church, dressed most superbly, the nobles & the Ugly Prince, [5]  all following the Wafer. I never saw ought finer than this – nor indeed to be compared with it. the crowd closed behind – the music – the blaze of thex dresses – the long street thronged – flooded with people. Had this been well managed it would have been one of the finest imaginable sights, but they moved so irregularly & with such gaps that it was a long procession broken into a number of little pieces. it ought also to be seen with Catholic eyes, not with the eyes of a philosopher. I hate xxxxx this idolatry as much as I despise it, for I know the bloody & brutalizing spirit of popery. Next day St Anthony had a puppet-show. two Negro Saints carried by Negroes formed the most striking feature. they made me smile by reminding me of old Flavell, [6]  & what black Angels they must make. In the course of conversation upon these procession I said to a Lady who remembered the Auto-da-fes, how dreadful the day of one of those damnable sacrifices must have been to the English residents. no, she said, not at all. it was like these raree-shows expected as a fine sight, & the English by whose window the procession passed, kept open house, as now & gave entertainments. the execution was at midnight indeed – but they ought to have shut up their houses. no English eyes ought to have seen any part of so cursed a spectacle. I never pass the Inquisition, quiet as it is, without longing to join a mob in as glorious a day as the 14th of July. [7]  – What is it that has put a stop to these barbarities? I cannot satisfactorily discover. the court is as bigotted as madmen & folly can be – the mob as unenlightened as ever – & the circumstance of Pombal [8]  having checked them, would after his disgrace xxxx <only> have been <a> motive for reviving them. I imagine that it is the effect of Infidelity – that the cold water of scepticism has put out their fires – God grant – for ever! the higher Priests are – must be – infidels – so are the nobles chiefly. perhaps Voltaire [9]  has saved many a poor Jew from these Catholic bonfires.

Our Bristol man here has done his native place no credit. [10]  he received a leg of mutton from Falmouth – it was very fine, & by an effort of generosity he gave it away – but at the same time sent a message – that when they had done with it he should be obliged to them to send him back what was left. – I pick up a number of half-acquaintance here. here is a gentleman of Cardiff [11]  who knows Maber, & whose brother has the great iron works at Merthyr. he knows all the Welch acquaintance of my boyhood. & I have found the Liverpool man who gave me an invitation in the Southampton stage this time twelvemonth. [12]  & here is a Lady girl here who knows Charlotte Smith [13]  & has seen Coleridge & Godwin & Mary Hays &c &c – a fine lively good natured girl with a head brimfull of brains. [14] 

My spirits continue very good. otherwise I am very little better – but this is a great point, & must wholly be owing to climate. Edith has been thrice in a great mob – commonly called xx xxxx a private assembly – & x xxx some she liked them well enough to stay cruelly late. we speedily move to Cintra. you will continue to direct here – from my other friend I only hope letters – from you I expect them with certainty. – today I finished the tenth book of Thalaba. you shall have the four last on their way to Wynn as soon as they are written – & I mean to go on galloping. our love to Mrs D. I wish we could transport her here, our Sunday-window would afford her ample amusement. When the Alfred [15]  comes I wish Cottle would send me three or four quires of the paper on which the Anthology [16]  is printed – the same as my copy of Thalaba is written on – I have not quite enough to finish it – & besides I may perhaps bring home half another poem.

God bless you –

yrs truly


We send Ediths letter to you, not knowing where to direct it. another Packet! & a letter from Rickman. I have not yet heard from Coleridge. remember me to Davy – I will soon write to him. but it is an expence of time & I am avaricious.


* Address: Mr Danvers/ 9 – St James’s Place/ Kingsdown/ Bristol
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. ALS; 4p.
Published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 104–108 [dated ‘June 1800’]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 99–100 [in part; dated [c. 15] June 1800].
Dating note: The letter is dated from Southey’s reference to finishing the tenth book of Thalaba the Destroyer, which was completed on 15 June 1800, see British Library, Add MS 47884. BACK

[1] Rundell (first name and dates unknown) travelled to Portugal with Southey. He was possibly a member of a prominent Bath family of silversmiths, jewellers and surgeons. BACK

[2] Miguel Caetano Alvares Pereira de Melo, 5th Duke of Cadaval (1765–1806). BACK

[3] Jose I (1714–1777; King of Portugal 1750–1777). BACK

[4] Possibly an adaption of James Thomson (1700–1748; DNB), The Castle of Indolence, Canto 1, stanza 68, line 1, ‘A bard here dwelt, more fat than bard beseems’. BACK

[5] John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826), Prince Regent 1799–1816. BACK

[6] John Flavell (c. 1630–1691; DNB), The Whole Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavell, 6 vols (London, 1799), I, p. xx. BACK

[7] The Bastille was stormed on 14 July 1789, marking the beginning of the French Revolution. BACK

[8] Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699–1782; Prime Minister of Portugal 1750–1777). He abolished public autos-da-fé and the power of the Inquisition to inflict the death penalty in 1774. BACK

[9] Francois-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759), Chapter 6, contained a famous account of an auto-da-fé held after the Portuguese earthquake of 1755. BACK

[10] Possibly William Stephens (dates unknown), a warehouseman in Wine Street, Bristol, who was in Lisbon at this time; see Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 2 May 1800, Letter 518. BACK

[11] Unidentified; but possibly a member of one of the Bacon, Crawshay or Homfray families, who played crucial roles in the iron industry in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. BACK

[12] Unidentified, but possibly John Theodore Koster, who had a home in Liverpool. BACK

[13] Charlotte Turner Smith (1749–1806; DNB), poet and novelist. BACK

[15] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[16] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)